I have two favourite teddy bears; one is a soft pink bear with a bright pink ribbon around her neck that I was given when I was a baby. The other is an old scruffy brown bear that had belonged to Stephen when he was little. One of his eyes hangs loose and he is missing lots of fur on his body. I call them Mr. and Mrs. Bear and I love them both so much that they share my pillow and I hug them every night as I fall asleep. Sometimes when I wake up in the morning Mr. and Mrs. Bear have slipped right down under the blankets to my feet.
Now I am at school and learning to read, I sit Mr. and Mrs. Bear on my pillow and read to them. Mrs. Bear looks very interested and leans toward the book, but scruffy old Mr. Bear looks a bit bored as his loose eye dangles down. I think Mr. Bear is a bit sad sometimes and longs for the days when he was a strong, young bear with lots of nice fur. I try to make him happy again with my reading.
“Molly!” Mum calls out from the kitchen. “It’s time for bed sweetheart, you’ve got school tomorrow.” I can hear the sound of the jug boiling as it blows a whistle of steam.
“I’m nearly finished Mum. I’m just reading my book”.
“Five more minutes then, while I have a coffee.”
“Okay Mum.” I settle myself back down on the bed, lying on my tummy with my knees bent and feet crossed in the air; Mr. and Mrs. Bear are waiting expectantly. “All right guys, let’s find out about the cow in the canal. ‘Once a cow was eating grass…’”
Reading is my favourite part of the school day. I love books and it is fun now that the words have begun to make sense to me. I like wrapping my tongue around the sounds and the way they feel in my mouth — ‘ayyyy, beeee, ceeee, deeee, eeeeee’— or mixing up sounds, like being a monkey ‘eee eee eee’ or a bee ‘bzzzzzz’.
I am not so good at numbers at school, but I enjoy playing with the cuisennaire rods because they are fun and I like all their colours and the way they can be stacked together to make pretty patterns. Mrs. Smith tries to explain to me how the red rods are worth two and the green rods are worth one and that if you put them together you have three, but I can still only see two rods so I just don’t get what she is talking about.
As the school year progressed I began to learn how to do handwriting as well. With my little fingers clutched around a wooden pencil, I have to take down the words Mrs. Mills has written on the board and put them in my exercise book. No wonder it is called an exercise book because by the end of the day my fingers are so sore from gripping the pencil it feels like they have run a marathon across the pages. As my fingers get tired my hand drags over the page and smudges all the letters until I can’t tell if I have written ‘dog’, ‘fog’ or ‘bog’.
Every now and then the end of my pencil breaks and I have to put my hand up and ask Mrs. Mills if I can sharpen it. There is a mechanical pencil sharpener bolted to a cupboard and as I turn the handle it grinds the pencil until it looks like a little sausage being eaten by a machine. Sometimes my pencil ends up so short that I can barely hold it in my fingers. Then the words dance all over the page and I can’t follow the correct slope at all, no matter how hard I try, until the words eventually get washed down the slope by a flood of tears as Mrs. Mills tells me again how messy my writing is.
Once we are able to write letters and words, Mrs. Mills starts teaching the class about composition, where we have to copy down sentences from the blackboard about sly brown foxes and lazy dogs, before making up our own sentences. I can’t think of anything to write so Mrs. Mills suggests that I write about a pet. I sit and think for a while and then decide I will write about the cat, how he is grey and fat and he always sat. Mrs. Mills walks around the room as we are busily writing and stops to look over my hunched shoulders at my book. She points to the page with her ruler and tells me there is something missing and that it is far too untidy. She says it looks like a spider has spun loopy webs of letters across the page and I have to fix it up before I can go home. I stare hard at the page for ages but can’t work out what she wants me to do that would make it look any different so I just trace over the letters again with my pencil but I just end up making an even bigger mess and the fat cat still sat, but now he is looking black from the pencil instead of being grey.
Later on we are given work books where some of the words in the sentences are missing. I take my pencil and fill in the gaps, sometimes using ‘to’ and other times using ‘too’ because at least some of them most be right. None of this makes any sense to me and we seem to do it for hours after lunch until I can hardly keep my eyes open any longer.
The best part of the school day is when I am allowed to take books home and read them overnight. Once a week we go to the school library and we are allowed to borrow two books at a time. The first time I went into the library I just stood there amazed at how many books there were, all lined up in shelves that looked like they would have reached all the way up to the stars if the library roof didn’t stop them. There were so many books to read that I didn’t know where to start. I just wanted to sit there forever and read every single one of them.
One day we had a man come into the classroom with a guitar on his back. Mrs. Mills said his name was Neil and he started playing us some songs as we sat on the floor and listened. Neil had wild fuzzy hair and holes in his jeans and his guitar sparkled like diamonds. He was tall and spoke softly, but when he started playing the songs were so beautiful that couldn’t stop my feet from moving. I enjoyed it when we were allowed to sing along and I loved the way singing made me feel so good, as if something alive was coming out of my body.
When I got home I told Mum that I wanted to play the guitar. “Perhaps when you get bigger, Molly” she said. “You know, girls don’t usually play guitar though, maybe you should just be a singer.” But I am already bursting with music and I can’t stop thinking about Neil’s sparkly guitar and how the beautiful notes fell from it like diamonds as I walk around the house singing “Morning has bro – oken, like the first mor – or – orning” again and again.
“Oh Molly, stop singing” Samantha yelled from her bedroom, “You are so hopeless. I’m trying to do my homework”. I can hear the radio that is playing in her bedroom get louder and she slams the door shut, so I go into my bedroom and sing to Mr. and Mrs. Bear as they sit on my bed listening to me.
“I’ve been followed by a moon shadow” I sing. I don’t really know what that means but I like the sound of it, sort of mysterious. I also like singing ‘the answer my friend, is blowing in the wind, the answer is blowing in the wind’. I feel like I know what that one means; something that you can’t quite name, but it is out there anyway, blowing in the wind like a butterfly, if you could only catch it you would find the answer.
Every night I sing while I am having my bath, trying to get my voice as low as it can go as I sink down towards the bubbles. Then I try to sing really high like an opera singer and I lift my face up to the bathroom ceiling. “Molly!” Mum calls from the kitchen, “Stop being so noisy in there and hurry up and finish your bath.”
“Okay Mum” I call back. I feel like I have finally found what I want to be when I grow up. “I listen to the wind, to the wind of my soul…”